Kirtan is a musical meditative practice based on ancient chants, which are traditionally the names of Hindu deities, sung in Sanskrit—though modern kirtan music can also be in English or other languages. A musician or group of musicians leads kirtan in a call-and-response format. The purpose of kirtan is to create a peaceful, meditative state, as the repeated chants give the thinking mind a chance to become quiet. For many people, kirtan is also a way of connecting with a deeper spiritual experience, but kirtan can also be enjoyed purely for the joy of the music and the feeling of community that it creates. While the chants used in Kirtan have a rich spiritual history, kirtan is non-denominational and can be a meaningful experience for anyone of any spiritual background.
Kirtan is more about the collective energy created by the music, rather than about people’s individual voices, so you don’t have to be a good singer in order to participate. And if you don’t feel comfortable singing, you don’t have to—you can sit quietly as the music flows around you. You don’t have to know any Sanskrit, either. The experience is rooted in the vibrations, melody, and rhythm of the music rather than on the words. Kirtan music facilitates a meditative, peaceful state that stays with you even after you leave.
When you participate in kirtan, you will find that the energy in the room will change as the singing progresses. At first, it can feel quiet and tentative. Many people have never experienced kirtan before, and are not sure what to expect. As the music continues, usually increasing in intensity, the energy in the room starts to feel more exuberant. By the time the Kirtan ends, you feel energized and connected with the people who shared the experience with you, but also calm, peaceful, and clear of mind.
Singing in community with others, and setting aside the thinking mind through with sound create an experience that will enrich your inner life regardless of your spiritual beliefs. If you are interested in exploring a dynamic meditative practice, or if you are looking for an opportunity to sing with others in a unique environment, you may want to attend a Kirtan event. Occasionally, Keene Yoga Center hosts Kirtan with various artists, so keep an eye on the Events page on the KYC website!
Written by Grace Martin
Grace Martin is a library assistant and aspiring writer who loves food, fiber arts, and reading any book she can get her hands on. She was drawn to yoga in early 2017, and enjoys incorporating aspects of meditation and ritual into her practice. She has lived in Keene for the past two years.